Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Semicolons on Saturdays and em dashes on Fridays

     When I first started writing fiction I was pretty frightened of punctuation, other than the standards: periods, apostrophes, question marks, and quotation marks. So those were pretty much the only things I used, other than commas (which I did not use correctly). After a few months of writing I realized I could not go on the way I was. My prose was dull and empty. My nights were cold and lonely. So I took the plunge and started to look up the rules. I started with the semicolon.

     I admit, I was always curious about the semicolon, but I was also afraid of her. She felt like an upperclass citizen. She was a country club girl and I was from the wrong side of the tracks. I didn't understand her and I was certain she would never understand me. But I just couldn't stop thinking about that beautiful little comma with the period above it. So I got to know her a bit. I tried her out a few times. I realized that she understood my writing in ways the comma never had, so I started to use her more and more.

     I'm ashamed to admit, but I started to overuse her, abuse her even. I didn't realize it at the time, but I made her do things she shouldn't have done. She was connecting clauses that weren't related closely enough to warrant being connected. I used her when I should've used a period instead. Sometimes she was in a paragraph multiple times and in three or four consecutive sentences. The poor little thing was probably exhausted. I didn't realize what I was doing until I put my manuscript down for a while and looked at it later. I was like, "Wow, this looks horrible!" Unfortunately, my solution was to pull away from the relationship. I used her and threw her away. My later drafts have very few semicolons. This is not okay either.

     After my wild fling with the semicolon I pretty much went back to the standard periods, commas, and question marks. Bor-ing. Again, I realized I needed to mix it up some more. I needed to put semicolons back into my writing, but moderately. I also needed to use ellipses and em dashes, both of which scared me even more than the semicolon once did. I've noticed that a lot of new writers make up their own rules for ellipses, so I was afraid I'd do that too. As far as the em dash goes, I only recently realized that it's a real piece of punctuation. I would see people use it and think, "Is that even allowable?"

     I looked up the rules of the ellipsis, and I think for the most part I'm using it correctly. Shocker, right? I'm sure my usage isn't perfect yet, but I plan to do a full edit solely for grammar when I'm satisfied with the content of my manuscript.

     I looked up the rules of the em dash, and unfortunately I did much the same thing that I did with the semicolon. I got really excited about the em dash and I began to overuse her. Not only was I overusing the em dash, but I was only using her correctly about 60% of the time. Poor em dash. I didn't mean to make her do things she wasn't meant to do. I discovered this when I gave my draft to my writer's group. I'm pretty sure my friend Elly was on the verge of ripping her hair out (or possibly mine). Another member of the group pointed out that I wasn't using nearly enough commas. That is a result of a years old fling with commas, where I of course used them and abused them and later threw them away.

     The lesson here is that when it comes to punctuation, I am a player. But I've seen the error of my ways. It's time to learn the rules and give the correct amount of attention to all the pieces of punctuation for the betterment of my writing and for the sanity of my friends.

     So while I am working on what will be the real and absolute for certain (I swear) final draft of my vampire novel I am reading many, many grammar books. I don't expect to memorize every rule there is, but I think I will absorb some things along the way so that when it comes time to do my grammar edit I can just use the books as references. And who knows? Maybe one day I will have the rules down pat so I can break them for the sake of metaphor. I love breaking rules.